In vitro meat
“” Fifty years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.
In vitro meat, cultured meat, or test tube meat is flesh for consumption that is grown in an artificial environment rather than harvested from a slaughtered animal. Although no product has been produced for public consumption, many research projects have successfully produced enough meat for it to be compared with equivalent meat products. Those who have tried it claim that it's close enough to replace a McDonald's patty when it comes to taste, but the texture and presentation still need work.
The concept of in vitro meat was one of the results of the Space Shuttle program; NASA scientists and astronauts wanted a way to be able to eat fresh meat in space. Bringing meat from Earth would be impractical because of refrigeration, space and cooking problems.[note 1] In one of the better things they've ever done, PETA offered a million-dollar prize in 2008 for whoever could produce commercial quantities of in vitro meat.
How it's made
In vitro meat is made by taking the muscle cells from the desired flesh (for example, cow or chicken) which are then are attached to a biodegradable scaffolding and treated with chemicals, to produce the desired tissue: long, sturdy fibers of flesh. Recently, steps have been made to avoid the tissue scaffolding (since it would be expensive to produce); instead, the cells are grown to interact with each other chemically to produce convincing meats.
Benefits and problems
There are many perceived benefits to in vitro meat as opposed to traditional slaughtered meat. In vitro meat is cruelty free: no animals must be killed or slaughtered to produce the desired meat. Additionally, the meat would not produce any of the waste parts such as the internal organs or bones of traditional meat. Because no animals must be raised, neither is corn used as feed, and no fecal matter comes from in vitro meat. Because livestock contribute to the problem of global warming through methane emissions, without the metabolism that produces this methane, the problem of global warming from livestock is reduced. These benefits would have to be weighed, however, against the possible problems caused by the alternative industrial production methods, which remain unknown. Aside from currently being very expensive to produce, in vitro meat — much like genetically modified food — causes a lot of people to go "Ewww! that's gross!" (despite the gruesomeness of traditional harvesting methods) and "that's unnatural". Complicating matters is that the texture in some forms of meat requires connective tissue, fat, or blood vessels to be present, which would be far more complex to engineer than muscle alone.
In vitro pork or shellfish might be kosher for Jews; though no actual pigs or shellfish are involved in any but the vaguest way, the principle of "Mar’it Ayin" might be a complicating factor, as it is a prohibition against doing things that look as if they are something forbidden. Fake pork might look too much like real pork to be kosher.
- Engineering & Technology (17509637); 2/20/2010, Vol. 5 Issue 3, p.30-32, Edwards, Chris
- So in 50 years when someone complains about how the STS program was one of the downers in NASA's history, just say that it might have inadvertently solved the food crisis.
- Yes, he actually said that.
- "Test Tube Burgers," The New Yorker. 5/23/11. Specter, Michael.
- "Artificial Meat: Kosher or Not?", The Jewish Week.